Spring–Summer 2016

Packing My Library, or, the Melancholy of Departure

The meditations of a bibliophile

Allen S. Weiss

Years have passed since the wild dogwoods bloomed on Dogwood Ridge. The property, my own, thus no longer merits its name, as only oaks and some stray evergreens remain. For various reasons of little literary interest, I have decided, after four decades, to move. Many things now take on a crystalline presence, knowing that they will never be seen again. Yet other than the surrounding landscape and certain moons, a particular quality of silence, and three or four splendid trees plus a lavender azalea that should be a national treasure, I shall only miss the proximity of owls.

I have long feigned nomadism, claiming to live in four or five different places (Dogwood Ridge, Paris, Nice, Kyoto, and a remote farm in the Aubrac region of France), but in fact I am serially sedentary. With a library of ten thousand volumes, it would be difficult to exist otherwise, and one’s psyche adapts accordingly. Furthermore, since I prefer to define myself by my writing, rather than by race, nationality, gender, sexuality, or any other form of self-identification, it is obvious that my library is the matrix of my identity, expressing the lineaments of my soul. Wherever I am, I settle in to write, with whatever handful of volumes accompanies me, and an entire phantom library in mind. Might I go so far as to say that bibliography is destiny?

The two spaces I have always cherished above all others are the library and the museum, which I have recreated in a hybrid form, my library-museum, where the archaeology of acquisition, the scenography of display, and the progression of discourse not only offer clues to my systems of belief and knowledge (the complexities and contradictions of which, of course, I myself can never hope to fathom), but also afford serendipitous juxtapositions of objects that sometimes shine forth like a surreal collage, sometimes clash to the point of fracturing preconceived ideas, but always break down the distinctions that I am accustomed to make between art, craft, artifact, and symptom. This space may well be termed a “study,” in the varied senses of a room reserved for reading and writing, a preparatory stage of a finished work, and a particular genre, as when artists speak of “a study in ....”

Because of the impending move, this space is slowly being dismantled: the bonds that keep the books together are loosened, which etymologically means that they are analyzed. The initial calculation is mathematical, a simple division: I will need approximately 250 wine boxes to transport my library. (It’s amazing how migratory libraries can become, given their bulk and heft.) I should mention, so that this essay not be misleading, that work on my library is being interspersed with numerous other activities relating to the move, which I find to be mostly distractions, but necessary ones. Packing also means unpacking. Just the other day I was sorting out the contents of a drawer that had probably not been opened once during the forty years I have lived here, and to my great surprise, well protected in its shroud, I found my first, and most beloved, teddy bear. Teddy! I thought him somewhat disheveled, but what can one expect after a hibernation of forty years! A Rip van Winkle of the Ursidae family! It was a heartwarming reunion.

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